Howl's Moving Castle

***

Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Howl's Moving Castle
"Miyazaki finally frustrates."

If you want to boil the essence of this review into a short sentence, then "Miyazaki finally frustrates" would be the one. After the exhilarating and sumptuous Oscar-winning Spirited Away and a marvellous back catalogue of weird and wonderful children's storytelling, writer/producer/director Hayao Miyazaki conjures up a 2D animated tour-de-force, with a startlingly weak and overdriven anti-war sentiment throbbing throughout, along with unwanted, unnecessary and repetitive overtures to The Wizard Of Oz.

Sophie is a young girl, working in a hat shop. She encounters the Witch of the Waste's minions and escapes with the help of young, arrogant sorcerer Howl. Later on, the Witch pays her a visit and curses her with a spell that, depending on Sophie's mood, can make her as young as 18, or as ancient as a paper-skinned crone. And the curse also prevents her from talking about it, so she cannot seek help from Howl, although finds refuge in his Moving Castle, disguised as a cleaning lady.

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The castle itself is, to put it mildly, flippin' marvellous, one of those places that could only ever exist in a film, as though its creators' imagination has spilled out and hit celluloid. It's something out of Monty Python's wildest dreams, cobbled together from spare parts, organically folded, with rooms stacked, using the balance of a plate spinner's will. Given Miyazaki's flair for averse realism, it is astonishing, frequently striking the viewer dumb with its visual attention to detail, while crosscutting time, locales and magic.

Just watch as Sophie comes to terms with her new face, body and mind. It's a lesson and challenge for young animators, in that he gets the movement and timing so exquisitely right. Also, it is a film that does not lack Miyazaki's humourous flourishes, such as an apprentice child sorcerer palming a magnificent beard off and on his tiny face.

Technically, the superb and hybrid use of multiplane 2D and invisible painted 3D digital (such as The Iron Giant used, with far less sophistication) is a feast for animation buffs - for the first hour. However, his use of whimsical and visual storytelling grates as he gets bogged down in exposition and forgets about the story, with an ending that ignores everything before it. A five-minute coda tries to wrap up, while leaving nearly all the narrative threads hanging.

Howl's Moving Castle is a dreamily imaginative misfire in a lifetime of staying ahead of the curve. I cannot openly recommend it, but let's not faff about - for Miyazaki buffs, it's about as critic-proof as they come.

Reviewed on: 22 Sep 2005
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A magical tale in a troubled kingdom on the brink of war.
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Read more Howl's Moving Castle reviews:

Anton Bitel *****
Kotleta **

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If you like this, try:

Spirited Away
The Wizard Of Oz